Well, of course, I know that the Deputy is somewhat at a disadvantage in regard to this, but I think it would not be in the public interest that the idea should go abroad that there is not a sound statutory basis for the financial procedure followed by this House. It should be remembered also, in that regard, that this House is the judge and the final determinant of its own procedure in such matters: that the control of the finances of the State rests in Dáil Eireann and not in any other authority, whether the Supreme Court or any other body. I think that we ought to be clear about that. I think that the public ought to know that we are responsible for the drafting of our own Acts and for the phraseology by which effect is to be given in our own Acts to our intentions as a legislature, particularly where the control of public moneys is concerned.
However, to get back to the narrow issue that is raised by this amendment. It is quite true, as Deputy Costello says, that certain words have been omitted. The words omitted are "as soon as possible after the commencement of each financial year". Those words have been omitted from Article 17, Section 1, paragraph 1. They have been omitted by implication in that Article, but they have been omitted specifically in Article 28, Section 4, paragraph 3. The reason they have been omitted is, as the Deputy has indicated, in order to enable the consideration of the Estimates of expenditure on supply services to be undertaken as soon as possible after the volume of Estimates has been circulated to the House.
It has been the custom or practice to endeavour to place that volume of Estimates before the House as soon as possible after the Christmas Recess—in February, if possible, but in any event in sufficient time to enable the members of the Dáil to study the volume in detail before the Vote on Account and the Central Fund Bill are taken. Sometimes, owing to the demands upon Parliamentary time and the difficulties in preparing the volume of Estimates, that has not been possible; but it is the endeavour of the Department of Finance, so far as possible, to see that that is done, because there is one thing, certainly, that the Minister for Finance does not want to burke or avoid, and that is as reasonably early a detailed discussion of the Estimates as is possible. The reason for that is that, if that discussion is got out of the way at an early date, then the rest of the session, so far as the Minister for Finance is concerned, is going to be very much easier.
Now, Sir, I think that Deputy Costello was not quite correct in saying that Article 54, customarily, had been interpreted to include the volume of Supply Estimates. It is true that that volume is presented to the House early in February or March, but it is not presented in order to fulfil some obligation or condition imposed by Article 54. It is presented, as I have said, in order to enable Deputies to study the volume and to enable them, if they wish to do so, on the Vote on Account and the Central Fund Bill to take up some particular subject for discussion and to participate in that discussion with full information at their command. What, in fact, our predecessors held Article 54 to imply was what is generally known as the White Paper on receipts and expenditure—that is, the White Paper which is issued some time before the introduction of the Budget and which, if it is examined, will be found to be entitled "Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure." It was understood by our predecessors to mean that, and their practice in that regard has been followed by us. In short, it has been taken that when Article 54 specifies Estimates of receipts and expenditure, it refers to what is generally known as the White Paper of receipts and expenditure. To give the House some indication of the difficulties which are created by including a quite arbitrary time-limit—a time-limit which has really no logical justification for it— in an Article of the Constitution in the way, for instance, in which it has been done in Article 54 of the existing Constitution and in the way in which Deputy Norton suggests that it ought to be done now in regard to Article 17, Section 1, sub-section 1º, we have only to remember that in our predecessor's time, as well as in our own, the observance of the obligation imposed by Article 54 to prepare these Estimates and to present them to the Dáil before the close of the previous financial year has been as honoured in the breach as in the observance and that, in fact, in a number of years, it was not possible to present this White Paper until after the financial year had opened.
As to the effect which the acceptance of the amendment would have on the consideration of the Estimates, I suggest first of all that it imposes, or that it would impose in certain circumstances, quite an arbitrary constitutional closure on discussion of the Estimates. It would be quite possible if you had that time limit there to defer taking up consideration of the Estimates until the period of three months had almost lapsed, and then a Government with a sufficiently large majority could say: "We must rush the Estimates through now, because we are compelled to do so under the Constitution within three months from the date on which they were presented."
On the other hand, it has been argued by Deputy Norton that the amendment has been put down in order that the Estimates will be discussed. If he would consider exactly what the present financial procedure is, he would see that under it the Estimates are bound to be discussed and that they will be discussed with a great deal more freedom in the Dáil if there is no time limit, because the provision which is made in any financial year by the Appropriation Act or a Central Fund Act comes automatically to an end on the 31st of March of that financial year. On the other hand, there is no authority to spend money out of the Exchequer unless there is a specific enactment passed to grant that authority for Central Fund charges as well as for other charges. So far, therefore as the general run of the Supply Services is concerned, the authority given by the Dáil to appropriate money for the purpose of these Supply Services exhausts itself on the 31st March in the year in which that authority has been given, therefore the Government must come to the Dáil and ask for a further supply if it wishes to carry on. It has to come, then, with the usual Supply Resolution and Ways and Means Resolution, get a Vote on Account, and pass a Central Fund Bill. When the Dáil grants a Vote on Account it usually only grants provision for four months.